Tag Archives: nationalism

Palm Sunday, Partisan Politics & the Power of the Cross

palm_sunday-jesus_enters_jerusalem_sicily_12thcWe remember it in the church as Palm Sunday. This is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s the day when Jesus of Nazareth pre-planned a comical, yet prophetic event, in order to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah (Zech 9:9).

Jesus literally acts it out.

It’s no coincidence. At the same time Pilate is parading in on the west side of the Temple to oversee Passover, ready to put a stop to any chaos that might ensue, Jesus decides to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. He’s not on a war horse wielding a sword, he’s on a donkey. And he’s not packing.

Think about that.

Not quite the entrance folks were expecting from their Messiah.

Nevertheless, the crowds give him a royal welcome. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And all of this to the waving of palm branches, symbolic of Messianic deliverance to the Jews, clearly harkening back to the time the Maccabees threw off Greek rule in Judea. Everyone understands this scene.

This is it. It’s Jesus’ time to prove himself as the long-awaited Messiah, the son of God. Will he go to the Antonio Fortress, where the largest garrison of soldiers are housed in Jerusalem, where Rome kept an eye on things? No doubt, the crowd could quickly turn into a mob and rush the place.

But he doesn’t take a right for the fortress, instead he goes left through the eastern gate, and into the Temple. He goes in, looks around, and according to Mark’s gospel, he leaves and returns the next day for some prophetic theater in the spirit of Jeremiah. We all know what happens next.

He wasn’t “cleansing” the Temple. He was shutting it down.

By the end of the week, Jesus had pretty much peeved everyone off. And early Friday morning Jesus is standing before Pilate saying:

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36 NLT

He said his kingdom is not of this world. Wait… what?

What does Jesus mean that his kingdom is not of this world?

Let’s be clear about this.

Jesus doesn’t mean his kingdom isn’t for this world, or that it isn’t to be manifested in this world. He isn’t saying that his kingdom is far away in another dimension where we all walk on clouds with our loved ones singing Amazing Grace for eternity. That sort of kingdom isn’t a threat to Pilate or the Sanhedrin. But too often that’s how we’ve imagined it.

An immaterial, escapist “heavenly kingdom” doesn’t reflect anything Jesus has been living and preaching for three years. No, the kingdom of God is real. You can see it if you’re born from above. You can touch it. It’s definitely subversive.

But it’s nothing like the kingdoms of the world.

“The crucial distinction between the two kingdoms is how they provide antithetical answers to the questions of what power one should trust to change ourselves and others: Do you trust “power over” or “power under”? Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but noncoercive power of Calvary-like love?”
Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (pg.33)

This is the kingdom we’re being invited into: A kingdom that looks like sacrificial, Calvary-like love. It looks like Jesus riding on a donkey. It looks like him hanging on a cross for the sins of the world.

Make no mistake about it. If we’re being faithful to the King and his kingdom, our obedience will inevitably lead to a collision with the kingdoms of the world, those systems which Satan controls (Matt 4:8-9). We need to hear this now more than ever as disciples living within an American empire.

Are we willing to suffer with Jesus and follow him to Golgotha?

As we think back on the discouraged disciples in those final hours, and learn from their despair in the garden with a steadfast Jesus, may we be reminded that this is not the time to fall asleep from the weariness of our trials and tribulations, from our striving to do what is right.

It’s also not the time to be overcome with sorrow because Christendom is crumbling and we feel clueless as to how we live in a world hostile to our message. We shall learn to do what most Christians have done before us.

We mustn’t give into the temptation that Jesus rejected in the wilderness with the evil one–the temptation to trust in the power of the sword and law to fight back. As Paul said, our weapons are not like those of the world (2 Cor 10:4)

So we must be careful that just because we’re not one of “those evangelicals” on one side of the American political aisle, who are certainly an embarrassment, sometimes a mockery, to the name Christ, that this means we are somehow more qualified to use government for Kingdom purposes, or that we’ve actually found the third way of Jesus. Far from it.

Leaving one party and political philosophy for another doesn’t mean we now know how Jesus would vote, even if he would vote.

As an Anabaptist, I’m often asked that: “Do you think Jesus would vote?”

Well, let me say this: If he would, I don’t think he’d tell anyone about it. As petty as it may be for the Lord of the Cosmos, I’d say maybe he would cast his ballot, but then he’d move on about the Father’s business, knowing that participation in the political process is sort of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It may allow some folks to make it more swiftly to the lifeboats who don’t want to drown, but the ship is going down.

I don’t say that as a cynic-saint, but instead as a disciple who hears the Lord saying: “My Kingdom is not of this world, if it were, I’d be doing worldly kingdom kind of stuff. Sure, I’ll talk with Pilate. I’ll even call Herod a sly fox. But I’m not doing the power-over, tit-for tat thing. No, I’ll expose the evil and injustice of the system by my good works, but I won’t play Caesar’s game. All those who know me will follow me.”

It’s more apparent to me now than any other time in my own life. It’s time that the church adopt a healthy suspicion of all kingdoms of the world, all parties, and all candidates. If you feel convicted to participate, OK. But don’t be fooled into believing, into trusting, that there is anything uniquely Christian about it. Don’t get your life from that.

Don’t put your hope and trust in any earthly, political savior or slogan.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you belong to another. Your citizenship—your allegiance—is to a heavenly King and his kingdom (Phil 3:20). Don’t confuse your calling as a kingdom ambassador by mixing the language and concerns of Jesus with partisan politics. Our Lord doesn’t approve.

It’s time to trust in the power of the cross, to pledge our allegiance to the One riding into town on a donkey, the suffering Messiah—vindicated in resurrection because of his faithfulness. It’s time to believe that his Kingdom advances when we stop trying to bring it through worldly kingdom means, and instead see the church as his agents of new creation.

We can do this with a holy confidence that God will renew all things in this way, as slow and foolish as it may seem, because we’re not left alone in that wilderness with the evil one. As it was with Jesus in the desert, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, we have the Spirit to lead us and God’s angels to protect us. We have a Lord who says, “Never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you. I will be with you to the very end of the age.”

As we continue adjusting ourselves to a post-Christendom culture, I want to say to us that now is not the time to be overcome by fear, reaching for control in an angry panic. No, this is the time that we learn what it means to be a faithful presence, to patiently make disciples like Jesus, and wait on the Holy Spirit to move among us. This is the way of the cross.

In the days ahead, I pray we return to, or simply be reminded of, the basic beliefs and practices of our faith, and what it means to be faithful aliens and exiles in a foreign land. Let us live in active obedience to Christ, and not in fearful reaction to the mess around us.

May we stand and pledge our allegiance to our commander and chief–the crucified and risen Christ who rides into his house on a donkey. With him we shall overcome, crushing the head of the serpent with feet fit with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Finally, when your allegiance is tested in the months leading up to the election, as it likely already has been, I want to encourage us to remain faithful to what we have professed in the ordinance of baptism and what we remember every time we share in holy communion: It’s in dying that we live.

Lord, help us say it with our lips and with our lives:

Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


Theo Graff Podcast Interview

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by my friend T.C. Moore on his Theo Graff Podcast–a “Jesus-centered, hip-hop flavored, geeky, theological, Kingdom exploration” broadcast.

The podcast is fairly new, but T.C. has already interviewed some interesting folks, including my friends Jessica Kelley and Greg Boyd.

T.C. asks questions ranging from my own faith pilgrimage to what it means to embrace an “Anabaptist spirit” that is offering a hopeful Kingdom vision of the future, particularly in a post-Christendom age.

Give my interview a listen when you have some time.

In the second half of the podcast I talk about a book on Anabaptism that I’m working on with Tyler Tully. Also, I give a challenge for cynic saints who are stuck in their faith, even angry with the church. Enjoy and be blessed!

For more on what is mentioned in the interview, check out the following:

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


How Worship of the American Flag Changed Everything

This fourth of July will be significant for me in several ways. It was this week seven years ago that my personal journey of discovery into a flag-less Kingdom of Christ collided with the religious powers of Christendom. What unfolded was the result of a patriotic service that would not soon be forgotten.

I grew up a Southern Baptist and served in three churches as student pastor in Texas. In the last few years leading up to my departure from vocational ministry in the Baptist church, I had been slowly embracing Anabaptism—a vision of a non-violent, love-doesn’t-stop-at-the border sort of Jesus.

In fact, I had just spent weeks teaching over the Sermon on the Mount to our youth, college students, and adult companions in our ministry. And then came the annual fourth of July service.

While I was a bit more willing to prophetically clear the temple in those days, I had decided it was wise to begin my vacation the day before this event so as not to disrupt or be a distraction by my refusal to participate in the celebration of America and the worship of the flag, something I couldn’t do in good conscience. I was for sure it was for the best.

Little did I know that there were others whom I had been teaching that would go to the service but choose not to participate in what they felt was idolatry. I didn’t learn of it until the following Sunday when I was asked by an elderly deacon in the foyer, “What’s this we hear about you teaching our youth not to say the pledge.” I was dumbfounded.

Apparently when the flag was marched down the middle of the aisle, several students and adults didn’t turn to pledge. They didn’t sing the patriotic songs, nor did they pray the nationalistic prayers.

And it seems that others noticed a small prayer group outside the church building that were praying against the event.

What followed over the next couple of months was a series of meetings with parents, deacons, and the pastor. I could no longer keep my personal views to myself. It was out in the open. And they had questions.

What had I been teaching that their students would want to put aside their former pursuits to go into missions, love all people regardless of nationality, and not waste their life on worldly gain?

They were discovering a radical discipleship. And I was becoming an Anabaptist and just didn’t know it.

The truth is that these students and adults were drawing conclusions based on a simple reading of the Gospels. And we had all come to realize that this was unacceptable for this Baptist church in rural America.

Saying no to flag worship dethrones the American Jesus and it exposes our cultural Christianity.

There would be no discussion. No debate.

We asked, “What if Jesus had physically walked in the building while you were doing those things?” One prominent member said, “Well, we of course would have stopped what we were doing and worshipped him.” Say what?

And the one retort I’ll never forget, “David, where in love your enemies does it say not to kill them.” I couldn’t believe it.

Parents were angry and confused. Church leaders had run out of patience trying to understand my perspective. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t or couldn’t hear it, or even tolerate it.

I was apparently such a threat that I had to sign a document saying I would never set foot on church grounds again. I was so deeply hurt by this that I wept at my desk in front of the deacon who had been sent to me.

When I resigned in September 2006, I announced that I was leaving to pastor a church. That was my true intent. But I was unaware of the time of wilderness, recovery, and reconstruction that awaited us.

I worked odd jobs and taught in a Christian school the last five years. And looking back it’s become clear that the last seven years has been a time of spiritual formation. I’m thankful for it. I see the Lord at work.

God’s love has used it to prepare me for what is ahead.

Had it not been for the worship of the flag that day, I might not have recognized how radical Christ’s call is to those who choose to follow him, and how counter-culture the Gospel-for-all-nations is to those who have made their home in the world.

I would not be the same person that I am today without this experience seven years ago. It has forever shaped my character and my path.

And that’s how worship of the American flag changed everything.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

UPDATE: This 4th of July marks 10 years since this event.


Is the Pledge Good for Our Kids?

Children using the Bellamy salute of 1941.

I grew up like most white evangelicals in the American South. Being a Christian in the Bible Belt meant that it was common to regularly fuse Jesus with nationalism. Unfortunately, it’s taught in churches everywhere and rarely questioned.

I can remember reciting the pledge every morning in public school right before a “moment of silence.” And of course, I’ll never forget pledging to the Bible, the Christian flag, and to the American flag at Vacation Bible School. Nationalism was a big part of my childhood and adolescence.

I don’t recall ever having seen my faith in Christ as being incompatible with a zealous patriotism. That’s of course until I read Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon early on in college. That’s all it took to get the wheels turning. I then began rethinking Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

I seem to remember that this was at the height of my patriotism, around the time of the bombing of Baghdad in 2003.

After reading Bonhoeffer, who believed no nation’s flag belonged in the church, I began to reconsider the oft-neglected Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. I began to ask myself some scary questions.

Like… what if Jesus really meant what he said?

Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation seemed to mark a major turning point in my thinking. I also thought that Lee Camp’s Mere Discipleship was sobering. I read several other works by Anabaptist thinkers, even visited with a plain Mennonite. Those were some intense times.

All of this happened within the last SBC church I served in as minister to students and education. I began teaching what I was learning, and I encouraged those in my sphere of influence to find a new identity in Christ and pledge allegiance to the Lamb.

I taught through enough of the Sermon on the Mount to prompt young people and a group of adults, on their own initiative, not to participate in the upcoming July 4th patriotic service. Their lack of enthusiasm was obvious to the entire church. And while I had purposely taken my vacation that Sunday, what transpired there naturally fell back on me and my ministry.

The very next Sunday I was broadsided with, “What’s this we hear about you teaching people not to say the pledge?”

The truth is that I never told anyone not to say the pledge. What happened that Sunday when the flag was marched down the middle aisle was the result of a small group of Christians connecting the dots. The events that followed resulted in my resignation and exodus from vocational ministry.

I don’t regret it. It has been a defining moment in my journey with Jesus. And it has shaped me for the next season of ministry to the Body of Christ.

Read “How Worship of the American Flag Changed Everything”

Please stop and consider how we evangelicals have been conditioned not to see any conflict with nationalism and Christian discipleship.

Will we allow another generation of our children to be taught that America is the hope of the world, or will we tell them the truth about a King whose Kingdom is not of this world, but is for this world?

The following video purposely provokes us to rethink nationalism.

The US flag code has declared the flag to be a living thing. Do you see anything wrong with Jesus followers pledging allegiance to a flag that represents a worldly kingdom? Would you consider this idolatry?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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